One year on: Enyobeni tragedy highlights why stricter laws around alcohol are needed

Youth Day will likely see government once again commit to protect, preserve and promote the cause of young people in South Africa. But sadly, meaningful action to meet the annual rhetoric is largely absent in the public sector – particularly in the fight against alcohol harm among the country’s young people.

Young people need jobs, quality education, safer communities and social safety nets. They don’t need communities hollowed out by alcohol abuse, families broken by domestic abuse and young minds numbed by underage drinking.

In preventing alcohol-related harms in South Africa, our country’s policies and laws are unfortunately found wanting. A devastating reminder of this is the upcoming first anniversary of the deaths of 21 young people at an unlicensed tavern in Enyobeni. Twelve months down the line and a trial into the illegal sale of alcohol to minors has commenced. But not a single person has been criminally charged for the death of 21 young people and neither do the parents of the deceased nor the nation have a clear understanding about what truly happened on 26 June, 2022.

Toxic cocktail

In a study on underage drinking, 49% of teenagers in South Africa reported having drunk alcohol under the age of 18. A quarter of those respondents said they regularly engaged in binge drinking. The impaired judgment, altered reasoning and reduction in one’s sense of responsibility that accompanies binge drinking are a toxic cocktail for a young person whose minds and bodies are still developing. Other studies have shown that the marketing of alcoholic beverages directly contributes to consumption patterns and potential misuse.

This is why South Africa should be implementing stricter laws governing the sale and distribution of alcohol alongside ensuring treatment for alcohol abuse is easily accessible. Measures that should be implemented immediately must include – but not be limited to:

  • Banning alcohol advertising and packaging that targets young people
  • An overall increase in excise taxes on all alcohol
  • Sustained and focused inspections of liquor outlets to ensure compliance with licensing regulations.
  • Funding school-based prevention programmes alongside treatment programmes

 

These interventions are not only advocated for internationally by the likes of the United Nations, but are largely already present in the draft Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016. This proposed piece of legislation limits alcohol advertising, sales and consumption. But there’s been no movement on the Bill for years.

Moreover, the 2013 Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages Bill seems to have died a silent death since it was approved by cabinet for public comment over a decade ago. The legislation would have completely banned alcohol advertising but was never actually released to the public. Even though studies clearly indicate marketing of alcoholic beverages directly contributes to destructive consumption patterns and potential misuse.

Demand more from lawmakers

As we approach the first Enyobeni Tavern anniversary, South Africans should commemorate these slain youngsters by demanding more from our lawmakers. Each South African concerned by alcohol abuse in their community needs to make their voice heard. For instance: If you know of an illegal tavern in your neighbourhood, don’t wring your hands. Persistently report it to your local councillor and nearest police station. Write to your assigned member of your provincial legislature and national assembly.

After years of consistent advocacy and activism by civil society and the public, this proactive approach has already borne fruit in the Western Cape. The provincial government has opened public comment on standardising the price of alcohol and limiting the time it can be legally sold.

Minimum Unit Pricing & augmented liquor trading times are policies that have been successfully implemented in several other countries to halt alcohol abuse.

Youth Day is an opportunity to not only remember the brave generation of 1976 but also support the young people of South Africa today.

Nickolaus Bauer is the campaign manager for the DG Murray Trust’s Alcohol Harms Reduction program.


This op-ed was first published online by News24 on 15 June 2023. Read it here.

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